Vote gives WGA authorization to call a strike

The Writers Guild of America may soon be carrying on two strikes at once.

The WGA announced Monday that CBS News employees repped by the guild have backed its strike authorization with 81% support. Almost 300 of the 500 members voted in the election.

The WGA-CBS agreement covers newswriters, editors, desk assistants, production assistants, graphic artists, promotion writers and researchers in New York, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles. Those employees have been working without a new contract for 2½ years, with no negotiations having taken place for almost a year.

The vote gives the WGA the authorization to call a strike at any time, although WGA East spokeswoman Sherry Goldman stressed that the goal is to get back to the bargaining table. “We think that this strong authorization vote should send a clear message,” she added.

WGA East prexy Michael Winship echoed that assessment in a statement.

“Our members at CBS News consistently have demonstrated their hard work and commitment to quality journalism but have had their dedication and diligence rebuffed by management’s refusal to negotiate a fair, respectful contract,” Winship said. “By this powerful vote and other actions they have taken, Writers Guild members are sending their CBS bosses an irrefutable message of solidarity: We will do whatever it takes to get what we have earned and deserve.”

CBS news and promo writers “deserve a good contract, and this vote is long overdue proof that they are willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve it,” said Patric M. Verrone, president of the WGA West. “Their fellow writers of TV, film and new media, who know firsthand what a vote like this can mean, stand behind them in their efforts.”

CBS responded Monday with the contention that the WGA should agree to its year-old proposal — which was rejected by 99% of the employees.

“It is unfortunate that our WGA newswriters have voted to authorize a strike,” the net said in a statement. “The offer we presented nearly a year ago was fair and reasonable and remains on the table. It not only includes one of the best medical plans in the country with minimal employee contributions but fair salary increases to all WGA employees as well.”

CBS also said it’s ready if there’s a work stoppage.

“We hope there is no strike,” CBS said. “Should there be, however, CBS News, CBS Television Stations and CBS Radio remains fully prepared and ready to continue producing the highest quality news programming for our viewers.”

The two sides last met in January, when CBS refused to put forth any new proposals, according to the WGA.

The guild and CBS are at odds over the net seeking the right to combine newsrooms and consolidate the staffs of radio stations in Los Angeles and New York.

The WGA said key elements in the rejected CBS offer included a two-tier wage package — TV and network radio members in one tier, local radio members in another — with no retroactive pay; the right to assign current WGA responsibilities to non-WGA employees; and the ability to merge or combine guild shops with non-guild units at WCBS-AM 880 and 1010 WINS in New York and at KNX and KFWB in Los Angeles.

CBS contended Monday that it had proposed an annual increase of 3% for TV and network radio and 2% for radio stations and asserted that the lower-percentage increases the WGA cited are based on spreading the increases as if they were retroactive to April 2005. “The offer of retroactivity expired after CBS had made numerous attempts over a long period of time to conduct and conclude negotiations,” the network added.

As for KNX, CBS said it’s asking that some WGA-covered writing duties be shared with AFTRA members at KFWB. “This request seems fair given that AFTRA employees had already agreed to it, and that we are offering layoff protection to any worker at KNX affected by the change,” it added.

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